“Most Entrepreneurs Don’t Think About Their Culture Until It’s on Top of Them”

Robert Stringer, director of the Babson SVP, will discuss 'soft business issues' with student startups
By Lucia Maffei - February 14, 2019

By his own admission, Robert “Bob” Stringer is not “a high-tech guru.” His experience is in what he calls “good-for-you, health and wellness, food and beverage” startups.

Bob Stringer (Photo provided by Babson)

Still, the new director of the Babson Summer Venture program – a 10-week long program that aims at accelerating the development of student ventures from Babson, Olin College of Engineering and Wellesley – knows he’s likely to encounter many tech startups as the new edition of the program prepares to select the final 15.

Stringer took over the position from David Chang, who was the first non-faculty member to hold the role. He’s been long associated with Babson as a lecturer; he was also the founding general partner of Sherbrooke Capital, a $100 million VC firm based in Boston.

We reached out to Stringer to discuss his appointment—plus many other things, such as how early-stage entrepreneurs tend to underestimate the importance of culture building, and the Babson companies in his portfolio.

When did you first hear about the Babson Summer Venture Program?

I have a long relationship with Babson, having taught there in the MBA program. Then, I ran a program during the summer called the “Global Entrepreneurship Program.” So, I was somewhat familiar with the Blank Center, and I know David Chang [former director of the Summer Venture Program, currently CEO of Gradifi since November 2018], and I know Debi Kleiman, who runs the SVP … She reached out to me and I expressed my interest.

Can you describe for me the moment when you thought, “Ok, I want to take over this role”?

I’ve done a lot of different things in my career: venture, investing, angel investing; I’ve started a few businesses; I teach; I’ve consulted; I’ve written some books. But there’s nothing more fun, for me, than hanging out with a bunch of people who are passionate about what they do.

What is your experience about working with companies that are really, really early-stage?

I have a portfolio of, originally, 38 companies, now it’s down to about 30. Included in my investments, there are four companies founded by people who were my actual students at Babson. They started from absolute scratch. So I’m very used to – and enjoy, quite frankly – working with enterprises that haven’t yet been born.

For the full article…

Reflections on a Career in Sports and Technology Innovation

J Gauron

Before I started my first job as a design intern at Burberry, I wondered how all of the brands knew that The color that year would be burnt orange, leopard stripe or sherbet pink. How could they foresee this I wondered naively? As a consumer you may marvel at this too, seeing brands all have similar colors, trends, or print themes that align, even as they compete for your dollars.

Later when I attended Rhode Island School of Design, one of my professors called upon a quote of unclear origins which demystified innovation; “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

And essentially this was true for a while.  Trend forecasting companies, like Stylus and WGSN, brought together color and trend specialist from around the world and wrote up elaborate reports for each season and category, forecasting the future. These reports and memberships were expensive, but this only helped to align the future, and brands unwillingness to step outside of these trends, which then manifested the forecasts as truths. The reality is a slightly more complex version than the brutal summary given by the Anna Wintour like character, played by Meryl Streep, in The Devil Wears Prada.

After design school I moved into innovation design, also known as white space or blue sky, every company has a different spin on the same goal. We are leapfrogging the current designs and aiming for 3-8 years out. Trend forecasting and street fashion are not relevant, it is challenging and risky with a high failure rate, which is a big part of why designers thrive in this space. It is hard meaningful work, which allows us to predict, and in some ways therefore shape futures.

Why do we bother to develop and design so far out, especially if it fails so often?

Many material developments, technologies, or partnerships in this area take years of research and development to fine tune so innovation teams require a long runway. And because of the long timelines constant course correction, much like space navigation, is required. Best bets are made based on qualitative and quantitative knowledge about the brand, user and the market, as well as partnering technology and lead times, but as the project progresses and more is known about these aspects, as well as the future market, the projects evolve.

Current examples of products from innovation type teams which reached the market include Synthetic Spider Silk “Moon Parka” by North Face, Adidas FutureCraft Biofabric shoe, Tierra’s 100% biobased jacket fossil fuel free Deterra Jacket, Pauline van Dongen designs solar-powered windbreaker for nature reserve guides or Patagonia’s Yulex Natural rubber wetsuit, Nike Flyknit to name just a handful.

These are generally costly long term projects, and sometimes they result only in concept cars; expensive high level products which don’t necessarily create huge revenue, or may not go to market at all. Having worked on more than a few projects in this space this can be painful to designers, who strive to create impact through innovation. But concept cars can create enormous media hype for a brand, and in turn sell pull downs; simpler more affordable versions which have a broader reach than an expensive innovation product's pricepoint.  Pull downs are often where revenue is gained from the innovation investment, ironically, and hopefully where the brand deploys some of the advancements in a more widespread, impactful manner beyond the initial splash of media hype.

Although large corporations are chasing innovation as hard as they can, as that edge which will keep them front of mind and center of hearts with consumers, the increasing reality is that start ups and satellite groups are more nimble and can disrupt with less capital. It is the heart of startups today, all one has to do is look to silicon valley, although as I was painfully reminded in a business fellowship largely with tech classmates, scaling up physical goods is quite different than digital. Still increasingly, game changing design innovations, materials, and even manufacturing moves, even those adopted by the big companies, are created by start ups. 

Looking back to my early days at Burberry where color forecasts were the driving future forecast seems like 100 years ago not 15. Today the rules are entirely up to those bold enough to write them.

Kenzen wins Judge's Favorite at Google Demo Days

Super proud to see the Kenzen team win in London (we are a Zurich and SF based co) at Google Demo days while I was facilitating a panel at Struktur on the future of Wearables in the Outdoor Industry.

Always a lot of hustle and challenges in changing the face of an industry but so worthwhile!

Highlighting Europe's Best Startups

Over the past five years, Google for Entrepreneurs has brought together a group of top startups from around the world to Silicon Valley to showcase their technology and meet top investors and mentors.

This event will be our first Demo Day outside the U.S., aimed at bringing the best startups from across Europe to London to pitch to investors.

The application period for Demo Day has closed. We'll reach out to all applicants by 29 March with an update about the selected startups.

How This Wearable Smart Patch Analyzes Your Sweat To Monitor Your Body

Jennifer Kite-Powell , Contributor
Image courtesy of Kenzen.

    Professor Wei Gao, a post doctoral fellow at the University of California and recipient of 2016 MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35, spoke in February 2017 at Rice University about bioelectronic devices for personalize and precision medicine. His belief is that wearable biosensors and medical nanorobots combine health monitoring and therapy delivery to take us closer to personalized and precision medicine.

    Research firm Tractica says healthcare is expected to be one of the biggest drivers for body sensors citing connected wearable patches as a key driver. Applications of wearable patches are not just for consumers but will fall into sports, enterprise and industrial markets as well. Tractica forecasts that body sensor shipments are expected to increase to 68 million in 2021 from 2.7 million units in 2015.

    Where to start? Sweat. Monitoring sweat as a key biometric is not new. Sweat contains biomarkers like sodium, glucose and proteins that can be collected and measured non-invasively using sensors. Sweat has been used to monitor other conditions like cystic fibrosis, but now sweat can be used to monitor nutritional deficiencies, ion imbalances, elevated glucose levels and inflammation that industrial workers experience. Sweat can even tell a doctor if your medicines are not working properly....

    Forbes Full Article

    Struktur; the creative conference for active, outdoor and urban design!

    I am so excited to be heading to Portland to participate in Struktur again in two weeks, and cannot recommend this conference enough to any designers in the outdoor, active or urban design space.

    And with the topic of Inflection point this year being spot on, the size of the vibrant super connective event doubling all the more reason to come join the fun festive mind bending event. I am moderating a panel "Reframing Wearables" while there are panels on Female Leadership, Biomimicry, Futurecasting and so much more.  I cannot wait!
    (wow and just found my tall last year, I was a bit under the weather but hey, there it is! ;)

    Here is the topic description for 2017!

    Inflection Point

    Futurists describe an inflection point as a moment when the range of possible futures suddenly shifts. As designers, we must prepare ourselves for success within the context of these new possibilities.

    Against the backdrop of disruptions in climate, trade, and manufacturing, new practices of generative design, bio-materials, and automation are moving into focus. Sustainability and ‘Made in America’ stories are shifting from novelty to necessity. As technical and performance gear continue to merge into the mainstream, the active and outdoor industries are well positioned to be a major influencer in what we wear.

    Struktur Event was founded on the idea that a strong design community is vital for innovation and growth. We are committed to fostering a community where design and industry professionals can share ideas, build relationships, and tackle these important topics with integrity and respect.

    Come to Struktur Event 2017 and position yourself for success."

    The U.S. Military selects winners of THE national challenge to redesign chembio Warfighter suits

    The winners of the US government’s “Chembio Suit Proof Challenge” were announced January 12, 2017.  This was an open design challenge and the first of its kind to source ideas for government innovation from all levels of the public and private sector regardless of funding.

    It was an honor to be a judge in this process to source concepts from the public and help select the 12 concepts which will move on to be developed with funding and collaboration from the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical Biological Defense in order to update the chembio suit for the first time in decades. 

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 13, 2017) – The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense has awarded 12 prizes to winners of the s Proof Challenge – a chembio suit design challenge that called on the public to submit designs and ideas for a new suit.  Finalists came from a variety of fields that ranged from students to engineers. A total of $250,000 was awarded to 12 participants/teams.

    “We were excited to use the Proof Challenge to reach out to the general public, beyond our military resources and experts, to source ideas and solutions for innovation,” says LeRoy Garey, the Proof Challenge Product Manager.  “The thinking, attention to detail and fresh ideas were astounding, exceeding what we expected.  This type of public collaboration is something we look forward to tapping into in the future – joining forces with the Americans we serve to help protect this country and our Warfighters.”

    Proof Challenge winners include:

    Challenge Finalists

    Idea Name: Increase Dexterity & Tactility ChemBio Suit
    Team Members: Shana Kaplan, Madeline Haas, Itohan Asemota, Nicole Raab, Angela Villanueva, and Jess Roberts

    Idea Name: JSLIST Rapid Cooling System (RCS) & Integrated Cooling Ensemble
    Team Members: Steven Link, Barret Schlegelmilch, Jonathan Lovett, Eric Hinterman, and Phillip Ebben

    Idea Name:  SPIDER© Suit Grey Matter
    Team Members: Thomas Luginbill, Brandy Johnson, Aaron Brauner, Steve Winters, and Steve Luginbill

    Challenge Semifinalists/Runners-Up

    Idea Name: ChemBio Duck Combat Duck Boot
    Team Members: Michele Putko, Robert Putko, Catherine Putko, and Marie Putko

    Idea Name: A More Fitted Hood
    Team Members: William Gabler, Cassandra Kwon, Minyoung Suh, Marc Mathews, Hilary Smith, Caitlin McCall, and Raquel Weis

    Idea Name: Hybrid Glove Concept
    Team Members: Steve Santaniello

    Semifinalists/Second Runners-Up

    Idea Name: Improved Glove Fit
    Team Member: Roland Bruyns

    Idea Name: Custom Articulated Garments for Optimal Dexterity
    Team Members: Leanne Luce, Ryan Brady, Kevin Galloway, Neil Tagner, and Matthew Borgatti

    Idea Name: AgileWear
    Team Members: Brian Kane, Gen Leonard, Karma Malhas, and Catherine Andreozzi

    Idea Name: Closure Control
    Team Members: Devon Willard, Chelsey Pyne, and Keren Espina

    Challenge Side Prize Winners

    Game Changer: Pulse Electric Textile for ChemBio Protection
    Team Members: Francisco J. Martinez, Howard Eglewstein, and Bettina Pasquantonio

    Influencer: Grey Matter
    Team Members: Thomas Luginbill

    Winners will be showcased on the Proof Challenge Facebook page and will work with JPEO-CBD on the next steps of bringing their suit ideas to reality.

    About the Proof Challenge: The Proof Challenge sourced innovative ideas for solutions to increase mobility, dexterity and tactility, allowing the Warfighter to complete all relevant tasks (including running, climbing, etc.) in a fast and comfortable manner.  Also sourced were ideas for heat management that reduce heat burden and actively cool the Warfighter as various physical tasks are conducted.  For more information on the Proof Challenge, please visit www.proofchallenge.com.

    Felischa Marye
    213.341.0171, ext. 750

    Business of Fashion Op-Ed | A New Toolkit for Designers

    Really enjoyed this op-ed by friend and collaborator Todd Harple in a recent BoF on the intersection of technology and fashion, from his perspective as Director of pathfinding and innovation strategy at Intel. 

    A dress by Chromat, featuring Intel curie devices | Source: Courtesy

    A dress by Chromat, featuring Intel curie devices | Source: Courtesy

    NEW YORK, United States — It’s New York Fashion Week, and there is a frenzy backstage as models are worked into their dresses and mob the assembled engineers for instructions of how to operate the technology that magically transforms a subtle gesture into a glowing garment suggestive of the bioluminescence of jellyfish. I know there’s not enough time for them to do their work. Almost instinctively, I find the designer and bargain for 20 more minutes.

    While I wonder to myself how I got here, backstage at a runway show, I also know I am witnessing what may be the harbinger of how a fourth industrial revolution is set to change fashion, resulting in a new materiality of computation that will transform a certain slice of fashion designers into the “developers” of a whole new category of clothing. By driving new partnerships in tools, materials and technologies, this revolution has the potential to dramatically reshape how we produce fashion at a scale not seen since the invention of the jacquard loom.

    The jacquard loom, as it happens, inspired the earliest computers. Ever since, textile development and technology have been on an interwoven path — sometimes more loosely knit, but becoming increasingly tighter in the last five years. Around that time, my colleagues and I embarked on a project in our labs to look at “fashion tech,” which at the time was a fringe term. These were pioneers daring to — sometimes literally — weave together technology and clothing to drive new ways of thinking about the “shape” of computation. But as we looked around the fashion industry, it became clear that designers lacked the tools to harness the potential of new technologies...

    here for the full article

    Data Driven Apparel in Rio, New Balance

    As is so often the case with innovation, there is a long (long!) research and development process and sometimes and even longer runway to the public reveal, through the entire duration of which designers and researchers in our field cannot discuss their work, with varying levels of secrecy. 

    So I am thrilled to see the Data Driven Training Knit which we developed and designed back in 2013 appear in preparation for the Olympics in Rio.  The tops are a part the New Balance Elite kit, as well as Team Ireland and New Zealand's kit.  Epic NB sprinter Trayvon Bromell wears it here in Rome.

    We spent hundreds of hours planning & designing, researching the elite body, gathering thermal data, aggregating that data points, and translating them into the round for knit production.  It was an intensive process for an elegant simple looking product, but then that is good design, and it was a pleasure to be a part of a great team.

    To visualize New Balance’s unique “data to design” architecture, Aggressive designed a futuristic test lab, where data-driven runners’ foot-strikes drive the creation of the midsoles in real time. Credits Production Co: Aggressive Client: New Balance Agency: Arnold Worldwide Directors: Alex Topaller, Dan Shapiro Producer: Kelvin Craver Creative Director: Alex Mikhaylov CG Supervisor: Max Chelyadnikov Edit: Alex Mikhaylov, Max Chelyadnikov, Dan Shapiro, Adam Thomson Design: Alex Mikhaylov, Andrey Krasavin 2D Animation: Andrey Krasavin, Federico Gonzalez, Dan Shapiro Modelling: E.D.Satan, Evaldas Cesnavicius Texturing: E.D.Satan, Konstantin Zankov Animation: Dmitriy Paukov, Max Chelyadnikov Simulation: Dmitriy Paukov Rendering: Max Chelyadnikov Compositing: Max Chelyadnikov, Dan Shapiro, Storyboard Artist: Rolo Ledesma Production Manager: Dustin Pownall Sound Design: Wesley Slover

    Tangible Media Teams Biological Actuator for Apparel - Biologic

    I was thrilled bye the final product of the multi year Biologic project run by an extraordinarily talented team of graduates, primarily envisioned by Lining Yao, out of Hiroshi's team at the Media Lab. I had the opportunity to see the project throughout because of my role as New Balance liaison, and ideate together with the team, while working on thermal body mapping and cooling explorations as my own team worked towards the research, development and design of "Data to Design" project for the 2016 Rio Olympic uniforms for New Balance. 
    We also had the pleasure of exhibiting Biologic in the Fashion 4wrd show September 15th at the Boston MFA.

    Congrats to the whole team, I look forwards to seeing where the team takes this brilliant biological actuator next!

    FastCo Design "The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future"

    This FastCo article compiled by Suzanne LaBarre is a phenomenal call out of the diversity of jobs growing out of the rapidly changing design industry, even now, I would argue.  I feel that the Fusionist Designer Role describes exactly the approach, process and value I bring as a designer.  Thank you!!!!

    Designers at Google, Microsoft, Autodesk, Ideo, Artefact, Teague, Lunar, Huge, New Deal, and fuseproject predict 18 new design jobs.

    Yesterday's graphic designers are today's UX designers. Will tomorrow's UX designers will be avatar programmers, fusionists, and artificial organ designers? Yes, according to the illustrious roster of design leaders we spoke with here.

    Design has matured from a largely stylistic endeavor to a field tasked with solving thorny technological and social problems, an evolution that will accelerate as companies enlist designers for increasingly complex opportunities, from self-driving cars to human biology. "Over the next five years, design as a profession will continue to evolve into a hybrid industry that is considered as much technical as it is creative," says Dave Miller, a recruiter at the design consultancy Artefact. "A new wave of designers formally educated in human-centered design—taught to weave together research, interaction, visual and code to solve incredibly gnarly 21st-century problems—will move into leadership positions. They will push the industry to new heights of sophistication."


    Fusionist - Nominated by Asta Roseway, principal research designer, Microsoft Research
    Early technology was, in its most basic form, like a huge block of ice: not very accessible, clunky, and necessitating specialists to handle. Now as technology melts, it will transform from solid to liquid to gas, permeating almost every aspect of our lives and creating a cross-disciplinary opportunities. Such diffusion will become the foundation for future design jobs. The designer’s role therefore will be to act as the "fusion" between art, engineering, research, and science. Her ability to think critically while working seamlessly across disciplines, blending together their best aspect, is what will make her a "Fusionist."

    While still expertly versed in classical design skills, the fusionist will mix those skills with a "generalist" approach to technology, working across disciplines and interest groups. In many cases, the fusionist may feel like an outlier. The technologies she bridges will require her to expand her own capacities. She’ll need to be an expert collaborator and communicator, extending her vocabulary so that she can reverse engineer her vision into discrete items that specialists can act upon. The Fusionist will remain driven by her passion for the Future and her ability to use Design as the unifying vehicle to drive the best experience.

    The global challenges that lie ahead can only be solved by a collaboration of minds and vocations, and a diversity of views. The challenge and reward for the Fusionist will be in her ability to communicate, comprehend, and connect all parties through design. This is already beginning to happen in the emerging fields of biofabrication and wearable technology. Stemming from biotech, biofabrication is a new cross disciplinary movement between the design and science that is generating the next wave of sustainable materials and solutions for our survival. It is not uncommon to see artists and biologists sitting together tackling the same problem. Additionally, wearable technology will see an influx of fashion designers and artists partnered with engineers, in order to create technologies that will go into our fibers and onto our skin. Fusionists will act as the bridges between emerging fields, and their ability to bring all parties together through communication and design will help bring about the greatest experiences.